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WORKPLACE LABELS TO AVOID AT ALL COSTS

Some labels are on the inside where they belong, like a piece of clothing – while others are in plain sight with little chance to be missed – like the ingredients on a can. Then there are those that are invisible to the eye but have the greatest impact of all…workplace labels.

No one asks, or wants to be labeled but unfortunately, we are all predisposed to this experience at an early age. For those lucky few who never were labeled anything – I marvel at your ability to live a life free of this experience, and for the millions of others who weren’t as lucky – I feel your pain. Being labeled sucks and it can like the stink of skunk that just won’t go away.

Labels follow us around like our shadow – sometimes clearly visible while other times completely hidden. Worst of all, they stay with us right through adulthood and yes…right into the workplace.

In order to understand just how labeling works, we must first breakdown the following:

  • Why it’s dangerous to label people
  • Common stereotypes in the workplace
  • Why “perception is reality” and what you can do about it

The Danger Of Labeling Others

As sophisticated as we “can be” as human beings, we are also horribly wired to make some irrational and quick judgements on pretty much everything (and everyone). It’s not your fault, blame it evolution and the development of our brains. The irony here is that judging people is hard, knowing people is harder and understanding them is hardest so we tend to settle for the easiest route which is to judge. Consider its auto-pilot without the pilot. People label others together to simplify the world around them and make both interacting and understanding it easier. It’s called Categorical labeling and although it serves a purpose, it’s deeply flawed and can be the root cause for many of the problems we face in our relationships with others. Labeling is a technique the brain has developed to make understanding the complexities of the world easier, although these assumptions are often incorrect, incomplete or down right insulting. So how dangerous is this really?

Another way to look at this and a term most people recognize is “unconscious bias” and in the past decade, there has been an uptick in companies not only discussing this issue but training their organization to better understand what it is and how to minimize it within the workplace. So, what is it (for those who aren’t familiar)?

  • It is an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group. It’s your unconscious feelings you carry around about other people – these feelings strongly impact and influence your judgement of certain people, while lacking perspective or objectivity limiting your perception.

The impact of our biases are also incredibly real and impact our:

  • Perception – how we see people and perceive reality.
  • Attitude – how we react towards certain people.
  • Behaviors – how receptive/friendly we are towards certain people.
  • Attention – which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
  • Listening Skills – how much we actively listen to what certain people say.
  • Micro-affirmations – how much or how little we comfort certain people in certain situations.

In the workplace, there are 4 main types of unconscious bias to watch out for:

Common Stereotypes

Now that we covered the “why” – let’s look at the “what” and in this case, the what refers to the various types of stereotypes and labels that currently take place in the office. There are so many stereotypes out there, it really depends on what specific category or group you are looking to typecast. Three common stereotypes you should avoid being labeled as are:

  • The Gossip: Commonly associated with someone who likes to know everything about everyone regardless if it has anything to do with them. They rarely can be trusted and can be heard saying “hey, did you hear about…”
  • The Know-It-All: Commonly associated with someone who has an opinion about everything and everyone. Considered a SME in life, can be heard saying, “well, at my last job – this is what we did…”
  • The People Pleaser: Commonly associated with someone who lacks the courage to stand up to others (when asked to take something on) and is taken advantage of over and over again. Lacking personal boundaries and possessing a strong need to be liked, this person can be heard saying, “sure, I can help – whatever you need?”

Did I mention that there are a lot of labels? Lucky for you (and for me) I found thisinfographic from PowWowNow which provides a great overview of twenty additional stereotypes:

How To Remove A Label

Labeling and stereotyping in the workplace can quickly sink morale, lower productivity and create a toxic environment for you and your employees. Once labeled, it can be challenging if not impossible to change it. Einstein once said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” and the same theory applies at work. You may not actually be any of the labels placed upon you but to do nothing about it makes the label stick stronger and the perception (to others) is that it’s true.

If you find that you have been unfairly labeled, there are some steps you can take to improve the situation so it doesn’t cost you your career and happiness.

  • Assess the substance and the source of the label. Is there any truth to it?
  • Seek out a second or third opinion from a co-worker/peer you trust to determine if there is any validity to your bad reputation.
  • If you are in a position leadership role, take a look at your style of management -are they any subtle (or not so subtle) changes you could make?
  • If you conclude that you do need to improve a personal attribute, get clear on what it is and make a commitment to yourself to change your behavior.

According to the HBR article You Really Can Change Your Reputation at Work there are some principles to remember if you find yourself being labeled by another person:

Do:

  • Address the issue head on, especially if you were in the wrong.
  • If you want a more positive impression to stick in someone’s mind, you have to offer it up repeatedly.
  • Look for characteristics you share with the person. Common ground will help soften their stance.

Don’t:

  • Accuse the person of being wrong about you. Their perception is their perception, and it’s up to you to help “correct” it.
  • Avoid working with the person. The more you’re in front of them, the better.
  • Expect people to change their minds on a dime. Shifting someone’s perception often takes time.

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Final thoughts: Labeling isn’t always a cause for concern, and it can be useful in certain instances, but when thrusted upon another coworker irresponsibly, this becomes both dangerous and demeaning leaving you and your employee’s feeling bullied while fracturing your culture. It’s up to your organization to take the proper measures to ensure discrimination of others and self is not tolerated and a safe workplace environment is created so that you can perform and enjoy your job.

The floor is yours: How does unconscious bias impact a companies culture ?

WHY THE BEST BOSSES HAVE THE BIGGEST HEARTS

People bring a lot of things to work on a daily basis that they probably should just leave at home – ranging from their personal drama to their kids; but there’s one thing that should always be brought to the workplace and that’s your heart.

We always hear about leaders needing to have high EQ and IQ but all too often we forget about LQ.

Yes, LQ – aptly standing for Love Quotient or what I like to call the heart of this article.

Jack Ma was famously quoted about this earlier this year, “To gain success, a person will need high EQ; if you don’t want to lose quickly, you will need a high IQ, and if you want to be respected, you need high LQ — the IQ of love.”

The Love Quotient is the simple act of being kind towards people.
WHAT IT REALLY MEANS:

In the most basic way, it’s about bringing your heart to work and to the people you serve. Think servant leadership. Servant leaders look to take care of, and meet the needs of their colleagues, customers, communities and of course their employees. It’s about authentic service and showing up through the lens of vulnerability with the intention to make a difference in the lives of others. This in return can create deeper experiences for themselves and their employees.

Although the LQ may not be the most scientifically proven concept, it can be qualified if not quantified through the eyes and hearts of those they lead. As a boss/leader, showing you genuinely care must come from their heart. I’m not big on models but here was one that resonated deeply with this topic:

Human. You are human and if you want to lead others more effectively, they must see you as such. You make mistakes and you have weaknesses. When your team can see more of the real you, they are more likely to choose to follow.

Empathy. Often leaders try to be sympathetic, yet empathy is far more powerful. The best leaders “put themselves in the shoes” of others by thinking of similar situations, or sharing their own related situations.

Attitude. Attitude isn’t about logic, it is all emotion. It is OK to be disappointed and frustrated, and showing that to your team in small doses can be quite powerful. But they also need to see your positive passion and belief on display as often as possible.

Relationships. If you want to lead more effectively, find ways to connect with and get to know more about more of your team members. Remember that your goal isn’t to make friends, but rather to be friendly and genuinely interested in others. While there isn’t a formula, leading from your heart certainly includes building stronger and more lasting working relationships with others.

Trust. Trust is both a noun and a verb. If you want to build others’ trust in you (the noun), trust them more (the verb). In other words, to get more of the noun, do more of the verb.

Here are a few excellent ways I found online which you can start implementing with your team today. Check out the full list here.

Look for opportunities to help and support. Make it a habit to look for opportunities to help the people around you. Maybe it’s an official part of your job, leveraging your knowledge and skills in a way that has a positive impact on someone else’s job. Maybe it’s an unofficial role, like mentoring new hires. Or it could even be sharing knowledge and ideas with a co-worker around something in their life that has nothing to do with work.

Communicate healthily. How you communicate is one of the biggest ways to bring your heart to work. Does it open the door to connection and understanding, or does it feed conflict and divisiveness. Does it acknowledge the shared humanity of the other person, or does it make them an “other” to be dealt with? Does it encourage people to open up and fly, or shut down and protect themselves? Does it enable a healthy resolution of challenges, or does it pour fuel on them?
Express gratitude. Make it a point to sincerely thank people whenever the opportunity arises. This is a two-way street. The recipient gets the good feeling of being appreciated, and you get to bask in gratitude – a heart-based activity if ever there was one.
Acknowledge others. Along similar lines, sincerely acknowledging others’ efforts and achievements can be a way to work from the heart. It’s a validating and encouraging practice that requires little investment on your part, but has the potential to make a significant impact for the receiving party. And in the go-go, results-driven environment of today’s workplace, that kind of reinforcement is often all too infrequent.
Show patience. We live in an impatient culture. Showing patience is a gift of love. Not only does it create more space for your interactions to unfold positively, it also reduces the negative impact of impatience-driven conflict.
Connect. You don’t work with co-workers. You work with people. Opening yourself to connection with the people you work with takes you out of cogs-in-a-machine mode and creates the possibility of more meaningful experiences.
Final thought: Love for what you do, where you do it and ultimately love the opportunity to make a difference in another persons life whenever possible. The process begins within yourself as you can’t fake this. Take the time necessary to find the love within and then go out and give that back to your team.

The floor is yours: Should more leaders practice vulnerability?